OAKLAND – Steve Kerr was back in familiar territory Tuesday, victorious yet again, making a few shots but mostly seeing the floor and ensuring his teammates were acknowledged and feeling the cheers of adulation.
Kerr was in the role of the consummate scoring point guard, as he was as a player, even if he is head coach of the defending champion, record-breaking Warriors.
He’s going to share himself and keep sharing even as agony stalks him every single minute of every single day.
“This was the hardest year of my life – not even close,” Kerr said during at an afternoon news conference in a ballroom at the Oakland Marriott.
And, still, Kerr found a way to thrive, to excel, perhaps because such caring and sharing is in his DNA.
Never mind that it was he who had been named Coach of the Year and this was Kerr’s day to pop his collar and sing sweet songs of Steve, whose 140 wins in his first two seasons as Warriors coach are more than anyone, ever, except a two-year stretch 20 years ago when Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan – and Kerr, the point guard – won 141 with the Chicago Bulls.
Failing to win the award in his first season with the Warriors despite leading the team to a franchise-record season, Kerr topped that in Year 2, when he was the mastermind behind a league-record season. Neither Phil nor Michael won 73 games, as Kerr’s Warriors did this season.
Kerr, 50, won the award even though he personally coached only the first two days of training camp before sitting out the next four months. Assistant Luke Walton excelled while Kerr took a leave of absence to recover from two back surgeries and the kind of post-procedure complications that sent his health tumbling into misery.
The headaches and neck pain are constant, varying only in severity. Kerr has lost countless hours of sleep, much of his appetite and seven or eight more pounds.
“Honestly, I am the luckiest coach around,” Kerr said.
Well, yes. And no.
“I don't think everybody quite knows what you've had to go through this year," general manager Bob Myers said, facing Kerr and on the verge of choking up. “You deserve this award.
“You don't deserve it for winning 73 games. You deserve it for coming to work every day with how you've had to feel. And no one quite understands that, except for the people that you go to work with every day.
“So I just admire your courage. I admire you as a person . . . and I love going to work with you every day."
Kerr’s pain, which has been considerable for nine months, ever since he underwent the first of two back surgeries, never got in the way of his determination to make this season even better than last.
Returning to the job full time, as Kerr on Jan. 22 was partly to find order, partly out of obligation and partly to keep him sane. His team may have needed him, but he surely needed his team.
“As a coach, you are entirely dependent on your players,” Kerr said. “You have to have talent and you have to have character. If you’ve got guys who can play and they actually care and they’re going to work and they’re going to want to be coached – and they’re really, really good – then you’re in business.”
Kerr didn’t stop there. He threw shout-outs to his predecessor, Mark Jackson, for building the defensive mentality the Warriors never had. Then came co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who have been ideal in providing tools that foster winning. Kerr thanked the front office and Warriors employees that are, well, employees.
Kerr, of course, thanked his wife, Margot, and their children, who of whom were in attendance Tuesday.
This is the guy who is sincerely thankful, a man who doesn’t blink at helping his fellow man or woman, considering as friends someone he knows only by name.
Is Kerr looking to get credit, to chalk up “assists” while going through life? There is not the slightest indicator of that – no more than he sought the Red Auerbach Award for being Coach of the Year.
“He’s an incredible person,” Walton said. “He’s always thinking of others and how he can help people.”
Being named Coach of the Year recognizes Kerr being the driving force for the best season in NBA history and, moreover, for being someone who lives to share the ball on the court and in life.